Leveling Up: How to Ensure Students Are Prepared for the Challenges of High School

high school readiness
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Many may consider the transitional challenges of high school to higher education as a critical moment, but what’s increasingly becoming more pivotal is what is sometimes known as the Ninth Grade Bottleneck.[1]

Even a relatively low dropout rate after junior high can be alarming. A high school diploma is a basic requirement for many jobs. In addition, the level and quality of academic achievement that students attain by eighth grade may have a larger impact on college and professional readiness than anything that happens during their high school years.[2]

As a community member, what can you do to increase the high school readiness of middle schoolers in your area and bring awareness around teenage substance abuse?

Have Them Participate in Academic Intervention Programs

Poor school performance is one of the most common reasons for having a difficult time adjusting to high school, sometimes leading to dropping out during ninth grade or the summer right after.

Academic intervention can be about filling in gaps in knowledge or compensating for learning difficulties, as is the case with programs like QuickSmart in Australia.[3] However, it may also focus on building better study habits and improving students’ outlook in life.

A support system-based approach may be particularly effective for certain communities. How engaged are the parents and guardians in your area when it comes to supporting the value of formal education? Multi-approach and family-focused intervention can improve grades along with lowering both dropout and teenage substance abuse rates.[4]

Make the High School Adjustment Period More Comfortable

New beginnings, especially in new places, can be tough and isolating. Ninth graders may feel out of place, on top of having to deal with more schoolwork than they’re ever done before.

Community initiatives may train guardians to help ease these burdens by putting together and labeling school supplies and books needed.[5] Teaching both guardians and students about planners or productivity apps for scheduling and studying may also be part of this.

Federal grant initiatives like the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs can help to foster school spirit and a sense of community in students.[6] The latter combines high school orientation with academic preparation and social events.

Offer a Variety of School and Extra-Curricular Activities

Providing many activity options for students to choose from is helpful to avoid student substance abuse concerns. Extra-curricular routines help students find places and groups where they feel like they belong, making school more fun and the challenges of high school less stressful. Even academic activities like competitions, conferences or workshops can be fun and character-building for the right kind of student.

Teach Accountability and Promote Independence

The seeds of accountability and independence are planted when community youth are taught self-monitored study and work habits. Nurturing better relationships between students and faculty and other school personnel is another piece of this puzzle. When students respect and accept teachers as authority figures, they are more likely to be diligent with assignments and test preparation.[7]

With a sense of responsibility should come trust and increased independence. Plan initiatives to prepare teenagers for challenges of high school, to make smart choices, to think of the consequences of their actions, and to manage their priorities.

Help Them Manage Stress and Anxiety

More than one in 20 children in the U.S. experience anxiety and depression.[8] It’s worth considering a general health program to promote sleep health[9], a good diet, and regular exercise to help lower stress levels and improve cognitive function.[10]

Research also suggests that untreated anxiety disorders early in life can lead to chronic anxiety and depression along with teenage substance abuse. Without initiatives to teach community youth how to cope with stress and seek help for mental health issues, student substance abuse may be inevitable.

A survey in 2012 states that more than 85% of U.S. high school students have classmates that drink alcohol do drugs or smoke during school days. More than 52% confirmed that these classmates could do so on school grounds.[11]

While Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs[12] can aid in preventing teenage substance abuse, it may be better for certain communities to focus on drug abuse education programs instead.

Preparing students to transition to high school is challenging. One of the most effective ways to help prepare students for this transition is to get insights directly from the source. Pride Surveys has surveyed students for more than two decades. We’ve developed customized surveys geared toward your specific community. The insights gleaned from these surveys directly leads to action plans. Contact Pride Surveys today to learn more about the surveys we offer and how we can help your community thrive.


[1] “The Ninth-Grade Bottleneck: An Enrollment Bulge in a Transition Year that Demands Careful Attention and Action.” Retrieved 13 September 2019 at https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-Ninth-Grade-Bottleneck%3A-An-Enrollment-Bulge-in-Wheelock-Miao/3429cad4a17ae3c4cca784021df3ae42a7cf2050

[2] “The Forgotten Middle: Ensuring That All Students Are on Target for College and Career Readiness Before High School” Retrieved 13 September 2019 at https://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/ForgottenMiddleSummary.pdf

[3] “QuickSmart: a basic academic skills intervention for middle school students with learning difficulties.” Retrieved 13 September 2019 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17915495

[4] “Family-Focused Program Can Deter Dropping Out, Substance Use” Retrieved 13 September 2019 at https://psychcentral.com/news/2014/10/27/family-focused-intervention-deters-hs-dropouts-substance-use/76644.html

[5] “7 Ways to Prepare Kids for Middle and High School” Retrieved 13 September 2019 at https://www.education.com/magazine/article/kids-prepare-middle-high-school/

[6] “At-Risk High School Students in the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness Program (GEAR UP): Academic and Behavioral Outcomes” Retrieved 13 September 2019 at https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10935-006-0050-z

[7] “Keeping Students Accountable” Retrieved 13 September 2019 at http://www.nea.org/tools/54212.htm

[8] “More than 1 in 20 US children and teens have anxiety or depression” Retrieved 13 September 2019 at https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180424184119.htm

[9] “American Academy of Pediatrics Supports Childhood Sleep Guidelines” Retrieved 13 September 2019 at https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Supports-Childhood-Sleep-Guidelines.aspx

[10] “Childhood Nutrition Facts” Retrieved 13 September 2019 at https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/facts.htm

[11] “National Survey on American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVII: Teens” Retrieved 13 September 2019 at https://www.centeronaddiction.org/addiction-research/reports/national-survey-american-attitudes-substance-abuse-teens-2012

[12] “5 Ways to Incorporate SEL in Middle School” Retrieved 13 September 2019 a https://www.edutopia.org/article/5-ways-incorporate-sel-middle-school




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